(2 hours from Pietermaritzburg)
Report and photos courtesy of Alistair Nixon
[CLICK ON PHOTOS TO VIEW FULLSIZE - or view pics in accompanying SIMPLEVIEWER Presentation]
The weekend started a bit apprehensively as rain was forecast for the duration. However Friday evening had mixed blessings of wind and rain giving spectacular lighting over the gorge. From the cottages there is a short walk to to gorge edge which also gives a good idea of the hiking route which was to be followed on the Saturday. The gorge was carved out of the Oribi flats by the Mzimkulwana river, is 400m deep and is 5km wide at its widest point and about 30km long in total.
There are both camping facilities and inexpensive cottages (en suite) An excellent central kitchen with all the necessary appliances and equipment making catering very easy. A communal lounge and dining room is available.
Saturday 8pm. Cold and wet. Carolee and fellow walkers were quite decisive that weather was not going to hinder the walk. The route was to go along the top of the northern edge.(right looking up the gorge). The views along the way were spectacular although we weren't able to see the full gorge as it branches off to the right up towards Leopard Rock and Oribi Gorge Hotel. The route along the top is an easy grade with a very pleasant resting place at a waterfall. Right along the route the views are inspiring with numerous photographic opportunities. This took about 1-1.5 hours.
Shortly after the waterfall is the ravine which is the descent to the Samango falls and Mzimkhulwana river. This path was dubbed the "descent with no end". It is steep and because of the recent rain was quite slippery and seemed to be never ending. A curious inhabitant was the shongalolos (how do you spell that?) which were prolific and HUGE. We were able to tippy toe our way around most of them but there was the occasional casualty. Near the bottom of the gorge are the Samango falls which are very pretty and the ideal spot for lunch. From the falls to the river and bridge is a 20 minute walk. There one makes the choice about the return route - back the way you came or up the road. The road is by no means as challenging as the ravine but a much quicker route to a cold beer.
Being at the bottom of the gorge one can really feel the grandeur of this beautiful natural wonder. The cliff faces are sandstone and covered by indigenous forests populated by a numerous birds.
Saturday evening's braai was organized in the boma. Rain held off long enough for a pleasant evening of conversation and some guitar entertainment around the fire. Andy, in days of old, had a band in Botswana and was able to get us singing a number of songs of the golden oldie era. Rob fell in love ….with a kazoo. (a sort of musical instrument) He was talented enough to give a rendering of The Last Post as he lowered the last log of the evening onto the fire. It was very moving!
There was no organized walk for Sunday but the numerous routes are well mapped which allows for individual groups to explore on their own. A number of people chose the Hoepoe Falls walk, which starts from the parking area at the bottom of the gorge and where a guard was posted for the day to look after the cars. It takes 2.5 hours at a leisurely pace to the falls. Most of the walk runs parallel to the river which allows wonderful vistas of the sandstone cliff faces on the opposite side of the gorge. The Hoepoe falls are inspiring. From the dark forest cover the path suddenly opens up into a "paradise lost". The falls are breathtaking as they tumble down a stairway of rock strata into a large pool surrounded by "beach" sand. The brochure describes it as a place to relax and listen to the birds. No luck there! The falls are noisy as they echo around the walls of the valley. Take your costume( or not!) as it is ideal for swimming. On your return, enjoy a mini break at the edge of the river on the sculpted rocks and sandy beaches.
Once you have driven out of the gorge a MUST visit is Leopard Rock for lunch. From their patio there are magnificent views down into the gorge as it winds its way around the bend. For those who have no fear of heights (Carolee!) have your photograph taken on the hanging rock!
From there back to the coast and a gentle drive home while enjoying the south coast beauty.